The Ugly Truth: A.K.A. The Dull Cliched Truth
Movies like The Ugly Truth can work. They require chemistry, they require heart, and they require movie star performances to carry the cliched-ridden script on their back. Gerard Butler does his best with a one-note role, giving it some real charm, showing he could be the shaggy-dog chauvinist lead actor in a romcom of this nature. However, Katherine Heigl plays the neurotic controlling woman role with limited charisma, instead doing her best imitations of Julia Roberts grins and Sandra Bullock physical comedy– it’s a TV star performance when a movie star is necessary. The script would have been naughty and button-pushing in 1989, but twenty years later, it’s tame to the point where the characters’ shocked reactions seem forced and unnatural, even by romcom standards. The ugly truth is that this film isn’t ugly at all– it’s predictable, lacking the heart and charisma necessary to make you ignore the lacking logic.
Katherine Heigl plays Uptight Controlling Boss Woman (UCBW), who has a ponytail and zero sex life. She stumbles upon a cable access TV show, hosted by Gerard Butler, who is playing Chauvinistic Male Pig (CMP), spouting all sorts of “truths” about how men want nothing but sex, and the sooner women stop trying to change her man and simply get with the program, the sooner they’ll have boyfriends. UCBW is outraged by this, so you know they will somehow fall in love by the end. You also know he will absolutely show up in the next scene, working for UCBW’s TV station. She wants CMP to crash and burn on the air, so she gets her newsanchors, a fighting married couple (the normally funny John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines), to try to sabotage him, so of course you know CMP will help them reconcile with his unorthodox advice. The ratings climb, his star rises, she keeps her job. Also, in a forced bit of physical comedy, UCBW meets her hot doctor neighbor while she’s hanging upside-down from a tree and he’s naked– an explanation of the set-up makes this situation even less funny than it already is. She has trouble winning his heart, so CMP bets his job that he can get them together. Of course his advice works. And of course he falls in love with her.
There’s an enormous problem with this film. Yes, even more than the cliched plot, the one-dimensional actors, and the misguided generalizations spouted as truths. The problem is that we know these two complete opposites who hate each other will get together. Gerard Butler tries hard, showing some looks of longing after Heigl and generally convincing us that underneath it all, he’s an okay guy– one imagines him playing the same character in a better-written movie and really soaring. However, Heigl makes zero effort to try to show her affection growing for Butler, aside from some thanks. When the inevitable scene comes where she makes out with Butler, it is intriguing, because we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the doctor is about to show up. However, the doctor is so nice and throws himself so completely at her, and he’s everything she wants… why in the world does she leave him for this shaggy woman-hating pig? Because the plot dictates it to be so– never mind what her performance indicates. The final fight scene/reconciliation is even less convincing. The dialogue even gives away that the movie doesn’t know why they should be together other than “they just should.”
In fact, if I recall correctly, the final lines of their inevitable get-together are, “Why do you love me?” “Beats the sh-t out of me.” I’m with the writer on this one. This is coming from the critic who enjoyed The Proposal, as cliched and silly a piece of romcom as has arrived in theaters. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds sold me their romance, so that despite the regular script and the somewhat-clumsy direction, it worked. If Katherine Heigl gave a performance that indicated she was falling for Gerard Butler, some crucial acting moments were left on the cutting-room floor. Director Robert Luketic and writer Karen McCullah Lutz, who collaborated for the detestable Legally Blonde, once again prove that they have no concept of how the real world works or how real people talk to one another. Those are necessarily traits that a good romcom must have, but these characters don’t even talk like convincing movie people. Only two characters were any fun: Bree Turner, as Heigl’s overeager assistant, and Kevin Connolly from TV’s Entourage as a short man who goes on a date with Heigl early on and sees why no man in their right mind would go for a one-dimensional character like that.
Final note, for fairness’ sake: My girlfriend, who went to the press screening with me, believed that Heigl gave a convincing performance, and Butler was the one lacking chemistry and charisma. Perhaps I have been forced to see an ugly truth in myself at this revelation, sympathizing with the chauvinist. Or perhaps my girlfriend was able to see clearly what the writer, director, and Heigl weren’t– Butler wasn’t an appealing character at the end of the film for Heigl to choose. Either way, she may speak for womankind when she says she found the film to be lightweight fun. I might only be speaking for myself and the rest of my chauvinistic, sex-crazed gender.